When people ask “Where are you from” it is always interesting to observe how the responses unfold. If a person has lived in the same place their entire life then the answer is of course quite simple but that seems to be the case less and less these days. Now we live in a transient world. People relocate constantly for any number of reasons. Where we are from is open to interpretation anymore.
As for me, I was born in North Hollywood, California… but I only lived there for a matter of months before my parents moved to my father’s childhood home in Ohio. We stayed there for a few years before, I’m not sure exactly how, my parents took a trip to the Northwest corner of the USA. I’m pretty sure the story goes something like “we saw the Columbia River Gorge and knew we had found our new home”. So, promptly thereafter we relocated in Vancouver, Washington which, if you look at a map is neither in Washington DC or Vancouver BC. It’s right across the river from Portland, Oregon but dare I say it is culturally much further than a few miles from Portland. Vancouver is a bit of a sleepy eddy next to Portland’s raging torrent. Things move slower there, it isn’t as “cool” in almost any measurable way, but I think the people who live there have a certain pride in their identity, of being a small town next to a big city. I spent most of my formative years in Vancover, but our family also detoured to Argentina for a couple of years in the middle of that. Argentina opened my eyes to the fact that the outside world is not the USA. The USA is very different from the rest of the world, a bubble of sorts.
As far as riding bikes goes, I started at age 10-ish in Argentina because it gave us a huge amount of autonomy and mobility. When not in school we went where we wanted and reported home only for refueling and sleep. Bikes were freedom and we were limited in range seemingly only by curiosity and our legs.
Upon moving back to the US we returned to Vancouver again. Bikes continued. I started reading Mountain Bike Action with my brothers an we became utterly obsessed with mountain bikes. I’m pretty sure that my brothers wouldn’t argue with the fact that I was most obsessed. I memorized each magazine as soon as it arrived. I cataloged all the new parts, read the reviews, dreamed of the unobtainable bikes in the pages and, with my paper route money, eventually started buying some of them.
We tried our hands at racing in the mid ’90s. I took up downhill mountain biking because I was lazy and pretty much though you could coast down the hill for the win. I was wrong, you had to pedal too. The number of times I crossed the finish line at Mount Hood Ski Bowl in a state of untrained asthmatic hurling was… many.
As soon as I was old enough I moved out and I went straight to downtown Portland, Oregon for the obvious reason that Portland was cool and I wanted to live somewhere cool. My bikes came with me to my tiny apartment. Forest Park, Powell Butte, and Browns Camp were my riding jams. I also took a swing at bike commuting but I was a lightweight and stuck to light rail most of the time. Portland was good. Portland was rainy. Portland had not yet consolidated it’s status of one of the centers of the cycling universe but it was well on its way.
Soon I followed my career to back to Los Angeles. I lived in Hollywood so the mountain bike options were limited but I’d dig deep, fight the traffic, and hit the San Gabriels and Santa Monica trails on weekends. It took a lot of work to be a mountain biker in Hollywood. I wanted to ride my bike, I was a biker. But I hated driving to the trails. I didn’t want to get a road bike though. Roadies were wusses. Fancy precious calypso Lycra clad bike clowns. Mountain bikers were rad dirt shredders with grit and dignity! How to reconcile the two? Get a cyclocross bike! With a cyclocross bike I could explore roads and hills but in a court of law still claim that I wasn’t a roadie. I was so clever!
Soon I wanted to ride with friends and… I made some friends with roadies. It turns out that yes, roadies were were good people. Riding with good people who taught me the ropes of riding in congested Los Angeles was the beginning of a new chapter in my life as a cyclist. Road bikes were freedom. Freedom to ride from my door step. Freedom to ride on a limitless concrete trail network. Freedom to squeeze rides in whenever I had a spare hour or two. I became a roadie. I bought an ACTUAL road bike. It was so so so fast! I was a lycra clown too now. Somewhere deep down I’m still a mountain biker, but I do it on a road bike I guess? Life goes on.
About that time I got married and we had our first kiddo on the way and we hit a main crossroads in life. Were we going to try to forge a life in beautiful-yet-insane Los Angeles or retreat to the support network of our families and home turf? The decision was made to return to the Northwest, to my home, to Vancouver. Having read way too many issues of Dwell our heads were filled with images of living the slightly rural life in a sparklingly modern home on generous acreage. We found one such home to the east of Vancouver, Washington. We gutted it, remodeled it, and made it ours.
Our return home to Washington lasted for five years. It was very very tough. We lived in the middle of nowhere. We couldn’t find “our people” or our culture. It rained a lot. It rained A TON. As it turned out our little rural slice of heaven butted right up to the uplift of the Cascade mountain range to the ease. By “butted up” I mean that the mountains started across the street and didn’t stop for a few hundred miles. Heavy clouds arriving from the Pacific ocean greeted our mountain range right on our door step and were too heavy to continue over the top of said mountains. So the clouds did what any reasonable clouds would do: They dumped all of their water in our yard and continued on their merry way.
Our roof leaked more than once. Fixing it was wack-a-mole.
I don’t want to be dramatic here but it isn’t an exaggeration to say that we lived in near perpetual rain while we lived in Washington. It may have been sunny and dry in Vancouver or even Portland, but out east at our rural house next to the foot hills it was probably raining.
I hated the rain.
I want to be totally fair and say that we brought the rain on ourselves by moving where we did, but the rain really crushed us when we returned to Washington. It caught us off guard. As a family it was incredibly difficult and it took a major toll on us. As a person and someone who thrives on being outside exploring, on two wheels, with family and friends, it took a huge toll on me as well. There is a enthusiastic, hardcore cycling community in rural Clark County, Washington where we lived but it was very small and mostly limited to weekend exploits. For five years the majority of my rides were alone and many of them were alone and in the rain. I adapted as well as I could. I layered, I installed fenders, and I headed out into it. Initially I’d come home and laugh at how soaked I was but novelty quickly wore off.
I had many beautiful days out riding those roads and even though I hated the wetness and loneliness of where we lived a funny thing happened: Those roads shaped me as a person and also as a person who rides bikes. On empty roads through fields and dense forests I spent many hours pedaling and meditating. I found new ways to challenge myself. I memorized all of my favorite climbs and taught myself to attack them harder and faster each time up. When the pavement ended I slowly started exploring some gravel roads as a way to mix things up and create new loops. I learned how to be wet and cold and just deal with it. I fought back against loneliness by talking out loud, singing out loud and praying out loud as I pedaled. The cyclist that I was when I lived in Los Angeles was happy but soft. The move to Washington consolidated my person into a tougher, thoughtful, more resilient self.
Eventually my wife and I snapped. After five years of trying to make Washington work first she, then I admitted to ourselves that this was no longer where we were meant to do life. We needed to find where “our people” lived. We needed to find an environment that worked for our family. We needed a city with a thriving culture but less intensity than Los Angeles. We needed mountains that wouldn’t end. We needed four seasons. We needed sunshine. It took a year an a half between realizing that we needed to move and finally selling our house but when the house finally did sell we made a bee line straight to Denver, Colorado.
Denver is our new home. Denver is not perfect. There is no such thing as perfect, but we are very happy here. We found our people here and I really believe that this is where myself and my family are meant to be. I don’t need to write much about Denver and cycling right now because Denver caused Rodeo Labs. Almost every journal entry on this site is the continued telling of that journey and the amazing friends and team mates that are now a part of it.
But I do want to circle back to my original theme: Where we’re from. Where I’m from. I live in Denver, CO now but more than any other place I’m still from Washington State. I realized this on a trip home that we just returned from. Much of my family still lives in the area and we were able to go home for a week to visit. My sister has one of the original five Traildonkeys, with a few quick adjustments it fits me well so I brought my bike gear home with me and hoped to sneak some rides in.
Near the end of our last stretch living in Washington I think it is safe to say that I hated living there, but now that we’ve left there are few things that I love as much as going home. I love seeing family and friends, I love not being an adult because my parents are adults and that demotes me to being a kid. I love seeing old places from growing up, and I love riding my old roads.
You don’t always appreciate what you have while it is right in front of you. In fact, I’ll bet it is a rare thing that people appreciate what they have while they have it. But with distance and the passage of time one begins to appreciate what was. The bad things fade somewhat and the good things shine brighter.
I threw my leg over my sister’s bike and started pedaling towards my old mountains. The temperatures were just a bit above freezing. The clouds hung just above the trees. The hills were almost entirely obscured by a wall of grey moisture as I approached them.
Hi rain. I’m back.
The sound of slick tires on wet blacktop was familiar and comforting. My caution about riding through wet leaves was instantly revived. I waited at a cross walk for the signal to turn and remembered innumerable similar crossings at that exact place in years gone by. The spray of passing cars contributed to my personal humidity level. I wondered if the occupants had strong opinions about rain and if they ever left their climate controlled bubbles.
I continued east. Homes and commercial developments tapered off. Fields and farms emerged. Rain began to fall harder. It didn’t bother me this time. I miss the rain now. I miss ferns, moss, and the smell of dampness. I miss air so cold and heavy that the smoke from fireplaces declares defeat the moment it exits chimneys. Instead of rising it settles in the fields and mingles with the dew to create a smoky mist that is uniquely Northwest, uniquely home.
I turn up a familiar road. My course is set. On a first ride back I can only go one place, my favorite climb in the world: Powell and Rawson road up Larch Mountain. This was MY personal hill for five years. Few people climb it. I’ve climbed it countless times. I know everything about it. If a road can be a person than this road is me: Solitary, foggy, damp, but verdant – bursting with ferns, vine maples, and pine trees. The black top is new and perfectly black with a yellow stripe unbroken from the very bottom to the very top.
Riding this road is meditative. I’m here again. Time has passed, one can feel it. I’m different, my family is different, our lives our different, but this place is the same. Pedaling slowly up the road allows me time to consider big things. Are we happy where we are at? Yes. Am I a good husband, am I a good dad? Maybe, but I can do better. I need to do better.
I’m better at riding bikes now. I could smash this hill now, but I don’t want to. I want this climb to keep going. I gain the first summit at a 4 way intersection having gained a few thousand feet of elevation. The air is colder, the rain is now sleet, but I’m warm from the effort. I’m losing light. I should go home. Cold descents are dangerous.
I can’t go home though. I have to get to the top.
I knew I’d get here so I dressed accordingly. I packed extra dry layers and dry gloves in a backpack for the eventual frigid descent.
I proceed up Forest Service road 1500 as it heads towards the summit of Larch Mountain. I never rode this gravel road when I lived here. What a missed opportunity! Riding a road or even CX bike up this road didn’t seem like a good idea at the time. I’ve changed though. My definitions of good and bad ideas have changed as well. Riding up this road at dusk, in the rain and sleet seems like a good idea now. The road is amazing. Less bumpy than it should be. It is so wet that there are small rivers running down the main double track. Around me there is only dense forest, thick fog, and silence interrupted by the gunshots of people out pulverizing ordinary household objects in the name of fun.
I keep riding up the road as conditions worsen. Why am I doing this? As I walked out the door to start the ride I told my oldest brother that I was off to exorcise some personal demons. It was a joke at the time but now I think riding up this road in these conditions was that. It was an attempt to reconcile the struggle of having lived here with the beauty of returning here older, wiser, and with more perspective.
Where you come from might not be an easy place to have come from. At times it definitely wasn’t for me. But I don’t think that we as humans are only attracted to the pleasant experiences that make us who we are. Who we are is the sum of good and bad, easy and difficult. We are the tension of internal and external factors from across the experiential spectrum. Revisiting where you are from is a wonderful way to see who you’ve become.
I reached the top of Larch. Sleet had turned to snow. Daylight was gone. I had no lights. I got two flat tires. A small wave of concern washed over me but I pushed it aside. I knew I’d somehow finish the ride safely.
I knew these mountains, I knew these roads, because this is my home.
This is where I’m from.